Category Archives: Behavioural Economics

7 Neuromarketing Hacks To Skyrocket Your Blogging Success

Our natural instincts still drive most of our decision making and neuromarketing and help us utilise strategies that trigger these instincts

Natural Instincts Drive Our Behavior:

Guest post by Jenna Brandon

Would you believe me if I said that deep inside we are still those savages who lived in caves and walked around in leather thousands of years ago?

Of course, modern human beings are advanced and sophisticated creatures. We have iPhones and Tesla cars; we live in fancy houses and wear nice clothes (even though leather seems to never go out of style). But our natural instincts haven’t changed much since ancient times, and our brain still follows the same thinking patterns.

In fact, humans are so predictable, that there are even psychological explanations for why we buy. Neuromarketing is a relatively new science on the verge between psychology and marketing that studies consumer behavior, and it turns out there are a lot of buttons in our brain that can be pushed to make us take this or that action.

Wouldn’t you like to know about them?

Today I want to talk about 7 cognitive biases that neuromarketing can leverage and explain how to apply this knowledge in order to grow your blog.  

1. Confirmation Bias.

How often do we buy certain products simply because the ad somehow repeats our own thoughts and feelings? “Oh yes, I know everything about not sleeping well. Don’t tell me about those dark circles under my eyes and tons of coffee in the morning! What is it you’re saying? Your mattress can help? Hmm, can I pay with a credit card?”

Fortunately or not, it’s no magic. It’s simply neuromarketing concept called “confirmation bias” being used by smart marketers.

“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities” (Wikipedia).

Simply put, people are more susceptible to notions that confirm or restate those that already exist in their minds, and are less likely to react positively to something new or strange.

How you can use it: Give your readers what they want and don’t try hard to change their mind. For example, create a poll on your blog and ask your readers what interests them the most. What topics would they like you to cover? Which questions do they have? It is a brilliant way to get into the heads of your readers in order to later create content that would resonate with their moods.

Another great hack is to use confirmation bias when creating various banners for your website. Start the copy with “Have you ever” or “Don’t you want” to show you know exactly what your readers are thinking. Get inspired by this amazing Porsche ad:

Porsche using the confirmation bias neuromarketing technique
Image Source: Porsche

2. Mimicry Effect (Commonly Known as “Mirroring”).

 

Mimicry is an old psychological concept and rapport building trick suggested by every smart networking book. In layman’s terms, mimicry is a conscious or subconscious imitation of someone’s behavior, gestures, facial expressions, etc. Such act supposedly creates an invisible bond between two people and makes a person you imitate immediately like you (since we tend to be more attracted to people who remind us of ourselves).

According to this theory, if you want to make a good impression on someone, you have to “mirror” the behavior of this person. If he/she rubs his/her nose or smiles – do the same. You can even try to copy the accent or fashion style of this person.

How you can use it: Since copying your reader’s gestures and intonations is impossible when you have no idea how they look like (ok, ok, maybe sometimes you see Gravatars, but that’s not really helpful), the only thing that’s left is words. Study your comment section and analyze the language they speak. Talk like they talk, use exact words and phrases that they use when shooting emails or commenting on your posts. Use colloquialisms and buzzwords if that’s what your audience needs, and stick to very formal tone when jargon is not appropriate.  

3. Law of Reciprocity

“If you want to be loved, love,” Seneca said. Why? Because there’s a neuroscientific law that states that people feel obliged to return favors.

In as much as we feel lucky when someone offers us a freebie, a quiet voice in us wakes up urging to give something in return. This is why various giveaways are so popular: people are thankful and feel the need to express their gratitude, so they tip more, buy more, or recommend you to friends.  

How you can use it: Give’em some love first; don’t wait for a special moment. Reward your readers for visiting your blog with a free trial, e-book, or a cheat sheet. Let them know you appreciate their trust, and you’ll see how much more repeat visits, comments, and shares such approach generates. This is, for example, how Ducttapemarketing does it:

Image of www.ducttapemarketing.com use of neuromarketing reciprocity tecnique
Image Source: Ducttapemarketing.com

4. Power of Emotions

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion (Dale Carnegie).” Boy, was he right! How often do we turn a blind eye to logical reasoning and get obsessed by something completely useless simply because it’s cute? Or stop at the supermarket to get some milk and end up carrying 2 bags full of products?

In fact, we are more human than we think. Ads that appeal to emotions are proven to be more effective than rational ones, but only if those emotions are positive, not negative. People are more willing to buy when they subconsciously associate the brand with feelings of comfort, safety, pleasure, or joy. This is why many marketers bend over backwards to create sentimental commercials and funny billboards. Needless to say, it works.

How you can use it: Obviously, emotions you put in your writing influence how your readers treat your blog. If you want to get positive and thankful readers, you should first feel that happiness yourself (law of reciprocity). If there’s no inspiration in you, chances are high that your writing will not touch or motivate your readers.

Apart from approaching your writing with the positive mindset, you can also use various neuro-linguistic tricks to pull the right emotional levers. Here are some of them:

5. Hot-hand effect

Nobody wants to hang out with losers, let alone buy from them. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to establish yourself as a successful and prosperous brand, and the hot-hand fallacy tells us that it is enough to win once to make the world think you’re a champion.  

According to Jeremy Smith, “the “hot-hand fallacy” (also known as the “hot hand phenomenon” or “hot hand”) is the fallacious belief that a person who has experienced success has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts.

If you achieved something once, many people would presume that you are sure to win next time as well. And, of course, everyone wishes to go with the winners. This is how you get more customers and Facebook followers.  

How you can use it: A good way to establish credibility is to add logos, trust badges, awards, and stuff like that to your blog. Such things look really impressive and help to build a reputation of a winner, since your readers associate your brand with other successful companies, and a part of their good reputation automatically gets assigned to you.

Another thing that helps to join the big leagues is guest posting and influencer marketing. This one sort of goes hand in hand with logos, certificates, and trust badges, since if your partner with the big fish, displaying that on your blog will have a HUGE impact on your reputation. This is an example of how you can do it:

Image of logos of well known brands using the neuromarketing hot hand technique

6. Ambiguity Effect.

As Simplicable states, “The ambiguity effect is a tendency to avoid choices that involve uncertainty.” In simple words, people like knowing exactly what will happen if they make this or that decision. What they don’t like is risks, unpredictability, and complications.

The more customers know about certain products, the higher are the chances that they will buy, even if there are cheaper or better alternatives, but certain information (e.g. country of origin) is yet to be found. Most people won’t Google. They will simply buy what they already know.

How you can use it: Remember all those readability rules that teach us to write 25 word sentences and 3 sentence long paragraphs? Well, it’s definitely time to remember them. Do not confuse your readers with long, complex sentences and bulky paragraphs, use plenty of whitespace, avoid jargon, explain complicated concepts with the help of metaphors. In other words, make your content as clear and understandable as possible.

Apart from that, offer one clear call to action and don’t give your readers too many options to choose from. Instead of helping to make a choice, it will cause “decision paralysis” and make them completely unable to decide. The problem is that choosing among more than 2 different options makes readers work hard and think, and working hard is the last thing they want to do when reading blogs.

7. Processing Difficulty Effect.

This one sort of contradicts the ambiguity effect, but, on the other hand, it even complements it. This theory (or rather a scientific fact) states that the harder it is for us to process the information, the better we remember it.

It happens because we spend more time thinking about this particular piece of content, and thus it sticks in my mind for a longer time. The more effort we put, the more precious the information becomes.  

How to use it: This doesn’t mean, however, that you should ignore all the readability rules mentioned above and write complicated articles that no one can understand. Instead, write longer, more informative, and actionable posts that would stun your readers and give them some food for thought. Aim at no less than 2000 words and cover your topic in as much detail as you possibly can.

 Final words

If you own a blog, you definitely want it to become a number one resource in the industry. And, you probably spend your days (and nights) writing in-depth posts, checking if you’re already on the front page of Google, and writing outreach emails.

However, I hope this little glimpse into what’s going on in your readers’ heads will make your life easier. Have you ever used any hacks like this? What else do you recommend? Let me know in the comments down below!

Author Bio: Jenna Brandon is a blogger, copywriter, and digital marketer at Writology.com. When she’s not busy writing articles and studying modern marketing trends, she cooks pizza or goes hiking with her friends. Jenna is also an avid traveler, and she is secretly Italian at heart.

Why Are Most A/B Test Results A Lie?

Are most A/B test results illusory?

In a report on A/B testing Martin Goodson at Qubit suggests that “most A/B winning test results are illusory”. Andre Morys at Web Arts goes even further and argues that “90% of test results are a lie.” If their estimates are correct then a lot of decisions are being made based upon invalid experiments and this might help explain why many non-CRO managers are sceptical about the sustainability of A/B test results.

So, why are some A/B test results invalid and what can we do about it?

1. Confirmation Bias:

Andre Morys suggests that confirmation bias results in many false positives. This is because optimisers naturally base most of their test hypothesis and designs on their own attitudes and opinions and ignore information that contradicts these ideas. As a result they become too emotionally attached to their design and stop experiments as soon as the testing software indicates they have a winner.

Stopping a test as soon as statistical confidence is achieved can be highly misleading because it does not allow for the length of the business cycle and it is important to also consider source of traffic and current marketing campaigns. You should run tests for a minimum two business cycles if possible so that you make allowance for day-to-day fluctuations and changing behaviour at weekends. Thus tests should run for at least 2 to 4 weeks depending upon your test design and the business cycle.

2. Survivorship Bias:

This refers to our propensity to focus on people who survive a journey (e.g. returning visitors or VIP customers), but ignore the fact that the process they have been through influences their characteristics and behaviour. Even returning visitors have survived in the sense that they weren’t put off by any negative aspects of the user experience. VIP customers may be your most profitable users but they are not a fixed pool of visitors and their level of intent will often be much higher than your normal user.

The danger is that by including returning users in for example an A/B test for a landing page experiment they will behave very differently from new users who have never seen the site before. For tests relating to existing users the process of excluding outliers can reduce problems with VIP customer influencing test results, but consider excluding VIP customers completely from you’re A/B tests as they do not reflect normal users.

For more on survivorship bias see my post: Don’t let this bias destroy your optimisation strategy!

3. Statistical Power:

Statistical power refers to the probability of identifying a genuine difference between two experiences in an experiment. To achieve a high level of statistical power though we have to build up a sufficiently large sample size and generate a reasonable uplift. However, when working in a commercial organisation there is often a lot of pressure to achieve quick results and move on to the next idea. Unfortunately this can sometimes undermine the testing process.

Image of confidence interval at 95% level

Before you begin a test you should estimate the sample size required to achieve a high level of statistical power, normally around 90%. This means that you should identify 9 out of 10 genuine test differences. Due to taking a sample of observations and the natural random variation this causes we know that tests will also sometimes generate a false positive. By convention this is normally set at 5%.

According to an analysis of 1700 A/B tests by convert.com only around 10% of tests achieve a statistically significant uplift. This means that if we run 100 tests we might expect 10 of those tests to generate a genuine uplift. However, given current traffic levels for each site we estimate that we would need to run each test for 2 months to achieve 80% power.  This means we should in theory identify 90% of uplifts or 9 tests. Using the p-value cut off of 5% we would also anticipate 5 false positives. Thus our tests generate 9 + 5 = 14 winning tests.

The danger here is that people are too impatient to allow a test showing an uplift to run for a full two months and so they decide to stop the test after just two weeks. The problem with this is that the much smaller sample size decreases the power of the test from 90% to perhaps as low as 30%.   Under this scenario we would now expect to achieve 3 genuine uplifts and still get 5 false positives. This means that 63% of your winning tests are not genuine uplifts.

Before running a test always use a sample size calculator  and estimate the length of time needed achieve your required statistical power. This allows you to consider the implications on the power of the test if you do decide to cut it short. Assume a much greater risk of a false positive if you do stop tests early.

4. Simpson’s Paradox:

Once you begin a test avoid altering the settings, the designs of the variant or the control and don’t change the traffic allocated to the variants during the experiment. Adjusting the traffic split for a variant during a test will potentially undermine the test result because of a phenomenon known as Simpson’s Paradox. This occurs when a trend in different groups of data vanishes when data from both groups is combined.

Experimenters at Microsoft experienced this issue when they allocated just 1% of traffic to a test variant on Friday, but increased this to 50% on Saturday. The site received one million daily visitors and although the variant had a higher conversion rate than the Control on both days, when the data was aggregated the variant appeared to have a lower overall conversion rate.

Image of A/B test from Microsoft which suffers from Simpson's Paradox
Image Source: Microsoft

This occurs because we are dealing with weighted averages. Saturday had a much lower conversion rate and as the variant had 50 times more traffic that day than it did on Friday it had a much greater impact on the overall result.

Simpson’s Paradox occurs when sampling is not uniform and so avoid making decisions on sub-groups (e.g. different sources of traffic or type of device) using aggregate data. This demonstrates the benefit of targeted tests for example where you are only looking at a single traffic source or type of device.

When you do run tests for multiple sources of traffic or user segments it is best to avoid using aggregate data and instead treat each source/page as a separate test variant. You can then arrange to run the test for each variant until you achieve the desired statistically significant result.

Altering traffic allocation during a test will also bias your results because it changes the sampling of your returning visitors. Because traffic allocation only affects new users a change in the share of traffic won’t adjust for any difference in returning visitor numbers that the initial traffic split generated.

5. Don’t validate you’re A/B testing software:

Sometimes companies begin using A/B testing software without proper validation that it is accurately measuring all key metrics for all user journeys. It is not uncommon for testing software not to be universally integrated because different teams are often responsible for platform, registration and check-out.

During the process of integration be careful to check that all different user journeys have been included as people have a tendency to prioritise what they perceive to be the most important paths. However, users rarely, if ever, follow the preferred “happy path”.

Once integration is complete it is then necessary to validate this through either running A/A tests or using web analytics to confirm metrics are being measured correctly. It is also advisable to check that both testing software and web analytics align with your data warehouse as if there is any discrepancy it is better to know before you run a test rather than when you present results to senior management.

6. Regression To The Mean:

There is a real danger of looking at test results in the first few days that you see a large uplift (or fall) and you mention it to your boss or other members of the team.  Everyone then gets excited and there is pressure on you to end the test early to benefit from the uplift or to limit the damage. Often though, this large difference in performance gradually evaporates over a number of days or weeks.

Image of A/B test showing signs of regression to the mean

 

Never fall into this trap as what you are seeing here is regression to the mean. This is a phenomenon that if a metric is extreme the first time it is measured it will tend to move towards the mean on subsequent observations. Small sample sizes of course tend to generate extreme results and so be careful not to read anything into your conversion rate when a test first starts to generate numbers.

7. The Fallacy Of Session Based Metrics:

Most A/B testing software uses standard statistical tests to determine whether the performance of a variant is likely to be significantly different from the Control. This is based upon the assumption that each observation is independent.

However, if you use session level metrics such as conversion per session you have a problem. A/B testing software allocates users into either group A or B to prevent the same visitor seeing both variants and to ensure a consistent user experience. Sessions are therefore not independent as a user can have multiple sessions.

Analysis by Skyscanner has shown that a visitor is more likely to have converted if they have had multiple sessions. On the other hand an individual session is less likely to have converted if made by a user with many sessions.

This lack of independence is a concern as Skyscanner simulated how this affects their conversion rate estimates. They discovered that when they randomly selected users rather than sessions, as occurs in an A/B test, the variance is greater than assumed in significance calculations.

Image of estimated variance for session randomised and user randomised demonstrates the fallacy of session based metrics
Source Image: Skyscanner

Skyscanner found that the effect is greater with longer experiments due to the average number of sessions being higher. What this means is that month-long tests based on session conversion rate (i.e. users randomised) would have three times as many false positives as normally expected. However, when the test was based on users (i.e. randomised sessions irrespective of user) the variance conformed to that predicted by significance calculations.

Further, this problem also occurs whenever you use a rate metric that is not defined by what you randomised on. So per-page view, per-click or click-through rate metrics will also be subject to the same problem if you are randomising on users. The team at Skyscanner suggest three ways of avoiding being misled by this statistical phenomenon.

  1. Keep to user-level metrics when randomising on users and you will normally avoid an increased rate of false positives.
  2. When it is necessary to use a metric that will be subject to the increased propensity of false positives there are methods of estimating the true variance and calculating accurate p-values. Check this paper from the Microsoft team and also this one.
  3. As calculating the true variance and accurate p-values can be computationally complex and time consuming you can just accept a higher false positive rate. Use AA tests to estimate how much the metric variance is inflated by the statistical phenomenon.

Conclusion:

When trying to avoid these pitfalls of A/B testing the key is to have a strong process for developing and running your experiments. A good framework for testing ensures that hypotheses are based upon evidence rather than intuition and that you agree the test parameters upfront. Make sure you calculate the sample size required and how long your test will need to run to achieve the statistical power you want to reach.

There is an opportunity cost to running tests to their full length and so sometimes you may want to end tests early. This can be fine if you allow for the lower level of statistical confidence and the increased risk of a false positive. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that provided you are continuously running tests this can largely compensate for any increase in the rate of false positives.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

 

Does The Entourage Effect Impact Loyalty Schemes?

Does Exclusivity Sometimes Backfire?

Many organisations offer their best customers exclusive rewards to acknowledge their value and to reduce churn amongst their most valuable customer segment. The entourage effect suggests this exclusivity can sometimes harm the effectiveness of a scheme where a VIP customer has a strong entourage.

For example, in online gaming  VIP players are usually managed by a dedicated team of customer services staff who monitor their behaviour and will speak to them on a regular basis. These  VIP schemes offer special promotions, free gifts (e.g. iPads), cash-back for large losses and they are  invited to exclusive VIP parties and events.

Image of Gala Bingo VIP scheme page
Image Source: Gala Bingo

The exclusivity of VIP events and promotions is supposed to enhance the customer’s personal feelings of status. This is based upon the principle of scarcity which suggests that by restricting the availability of a reward it increases its perceived value.

However, research published in the Journal of Consumer Research (2013) suggests the existence of an entourage effect which means VIPs may feel higher levels of status when they are able to share their experience with their followers.

What is the entourage effect?

The entourage effect results in a heightened sense of status when a VIP shares other-wise exclusive benefits with a wider group of connected individuals. The effect appears to be driven by an increase in feelings of connection with their guests.

What causes the entourage effect?

Humans are highly connected and “super social apes” (Herd, 2009). This means people are often heavily influenced by the behaviour and opinions of others. Further, possessing status is a strong human motivation (Fiske and Taylor 2008; Taylor and Brown 1988) and as a result people frequently undertake behaviours for the purpose of signalling information about their actual or desired status. This is partly why people buy premium brands, large houses and expensive cars.

Why do brands treat VIPs differently?

Studies have indicated that rewarding customers does increase their perceived status (Dre’ze and Nunes 2009) and results in stronger brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. As the majority of an organisation’s revenues are often generated by a small proportion of customers (see the Pareto principle), it is important to reward and retain VIP type customers.

However, many VIP schemes allow customers to share these exclusive benefits by inviting a guest along. But the danger here is that this could be perceived to reduce the exclusivity of the experience and thus the overall attractiveness of the benefits. This is based upon the scarcity principle which normally suggests that the more exclusive an experience is the greater its perceived value and the higher is its potential for signalling one’s status (Bourdieu 1986).

The entourage effect challenges this theory when it comes to VIP style reward schemes. The research suggests this is not because VIPs don’t want to feel lonely, that they desire public visibility of their status or want to make people feel indebted to them. No, the research suggests that the entourage effect is due to our desire for a heightened feeling of social connection.

Implications for reward schemes:

  1. Avoid making loyalty schemes too exclusive that it prevents VIPs from sharing experiences with their entourage.
  2. Allow VIP customers to add guests to events to elevate their perceived status. The research suggests this provides companies with an opportunity to increase loyalty and sales from their most valuable customers.
  3. The entourage effect does not apply to the notion of a “trophy wife” – a relatively scare person who increases the status of the other individual in the relationship. It’s the individual’s duty to support the trophy wife (Baumeister and Vohs, 2004) whilst it is the brand’s responsibility to develop and maintain the relationship with the entourage.
  4. See VIPs as groups rather than individuals. As people are social creatures it is important to treat VIPs as a group rather than a set of unconnected individuals. Taking this approach is more likely to generate long-term benefits in respect of improved retention and increased customer life-time value.

Conclusion:

The entourage effect demonstrates the importance and power of our social connections in potentially elevating our status within our in-group. Even when this reduces the exclusivity of an experience our social nature offsets any loss in scarcity by increasing our feeling of social connection.

However, the research does indicate that the entourage effect is significantly reduced when there is a large physical distance between the VIP and their entourage, if the treatment is not preferential or if the guest also has a legitimate right to attend the VIP event themselves.

Overall though, the entourage effect indicates that it is beneficial for VIP loyalty schemes to allow members to invite guests to events. Loyalty schemes should make allowance for the entourage effect by encouraging VIP customers to pre-register close friends or relatives for events and promotions to enable them to fully benefit from the entourage effect.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

 

Are Implicit Techniques The Future of Market Research?

Why is market research so poor at predicting future behaviour?

Why is so much money wasted on conventional methods of research, such as focus groups and questionnaires given that they are such poor predictors of human behaviour? People are notorious for saying one thing, but doing something completely different.

The main reason why conventional research is often so poor at predicting behaviour is because it seeks answers from our conscious and rational brain. However, studies from psychology and neuroscience indicate that a majority of our decisions are made by our automatic and mainly subconscious mind (see System 1). People can’t articulate what drives their behaviour because they don’t have full access to those deep and hidden mental processes.

Image of difference between System 1 and System 2

Perception is not reality!

Whether we like it or not, people don’t have a strong grasp of reality. Our brain maps our perceptions, not reality. This means that our perception of reality is different from others as we experience the world according to our own unique filter of biases, cultural and moral influences.

Many of our decisions are also influenced by other people. Although some of our internal drivers are genetically embedded, others are culturally directed. Our brains naturally reflect our culture because norms, customs, traditions, fads and superstitions are reflected in our neural circuity which determines much of our behaviour.

We also copy the behaviour of others. This is either intentionally because we think we can benefit from the behaviour or unconsciously because our brain is influenced by what other people are doing.  I have summarised most of the key influences on our behaviour in the diagram below. This demonstrates how complex human decision making processes are in reality. They do not reflect the rationality of the economic model most of us were taught at school.

Image of behavioural economics decision bucket

Why do people use flawed methods of research?

Many marketers continue to ask for focus groups and other traditional methods of research because they are quick, easy and cheap to use. There may also be an element of that’s all they know about. Humans are certainly very good at turning a blind eye to their ignorance.

There is also a certain amount of herd behaviour here as people see others using traditional methods and automatically assume they must provide value and generate insights. Agencies also make a lot of money out of traditional methods of research and so it’s not always in their interests to suggest more valid ways of doing research.

Whatever the reasons though, what marketers should by now recognise is that most traditional methods of research are deeply flawed and unlikely to predict future behaviour. So what should marketers used instead? Are there affordable methods of research that can access the subconscious brain?

What are the alternatives?

 

There are a number of research techniques that can access or offer insights about how the automatic and subconscious mind responds to marketing activities. These are generally referred to as implicit or indirect research techniques as they don’t rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As we can see from the table below there are relatively few methods that are truly implicit..

Neuroscience:

There are two kinds of neuroscience research techniques, functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and EEG. fMRI uses a powerful magnet to monitor changes in the brain’s blood flow in response to stimuli and gives access to deep parts of the brain such as the reward centre. However, fMRI is mainly used in academic research because it’s expensive to use and participants have to lie completely still in a large machine.

Image of table showing different types of research and whether they are implicit techniques

Electroencephalography (EEG) involves placing a cap of electrodes connected to the participant’s scalp and measures electrical activity from the synchronised activity of thousands of neurons. This allows researchers to analyse which areas of the brain are active at a specific time and then match this activity to audio and visual stimuli.

EEG though allows respondents to retain mobility during the research process and is much less expensive than fMRI. EEG cannot access deep into the brain to where the reward centre is located, but it can identify instinctual emotions such as excitement, joy and sadness through changes in activity. EEG can also help in areas including;

  • Perception – EEG can track which regions of the brain are activated when see an object and improve the visual look of an object for optimal perception.
  • Attention – EEG can help identify which object elements and features grab our attention.
  • Motivation – EEG can track whether people are drawn towards a stimuli or try to avoid it.

EEG technology is the fastest growing neuroscience technique and is used by organisations to evaluate advertising campaigns, packaging and product design.

Biometrics:

Biometrics are techniques that measure the body’s physical response to a stimuli. Biometrics monitor bodily functions such as heart-rate variability, skin conductance, respiration and eye movement. This allows researchers to identify unconscious responses to marketing activity that self-reporting would never be able to accurately measure. These techniques can be used to measure emotional arousal to help improve website design, advertising campaigns, packaging and new product development.

Galvanic Skin Response (GSR):

GSR monitors the electrical conductance of the participant’s skin as this changes in response to emotional reactions. GSR is often combined with eye tracking to identify the intensity of emotional responses and also the specific asset or message that triggered the emotional reaction.

Eye-Tracking:

Image of faces showing emotion on different devices
Image Source:

People can’t control where they initially look on a screen and so measurements of gaze can provide useful insights about the effectiveness of different designs or marketing messages. Eye-tracking technology uses a web cam or a video camera to monitor eye gaze and movement to identify areas on a screen which draw visual attention.

Eye tracking is software that uses a web cam or a video camera to monitor eye gaze and in some cases biometric responses to visual content. This generates heat maps of eye gaze to show where visitor attention is drawn to on the screen. This can provide valuable insights about the effectiveness of different designs and whether users are noticing important messages or assets on page.

Increasingly eye-tracking software now includes facial coding technology to identify the emotions a user is displaying in response to marketing material. The software uses vision algorithms to map key landmarks on a person’s face and machine learning algorithms analyse pixels in those regions to classify facial expressions according to common emotions.

Eye-tracking company Affectiva provides such technology for gaming apps. This integrates into user interfaces to allow developers to make their apps adapt to the emotional responses of users in real-time. However, research by Nielsen discovered that when facial coding is employed in isolation it is a poor predictor of sales. This is why it’s important not to rely on a single method of research because it is only giving you one piece of the jigsaw.

Heart Rate Monitoring (ECG):

A participant’s heart rate can be tracked with an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine to monitor a person’s physiological response to marketing efforts. The assumption here is that changes in a person’s heart rate are symptomatic of unconscious emotional responses that people do not have full awareness of.

Affective Priming and Implicit Association Test (IAT):

These research methods measure implicit reaction times in response to priming participants with words, images or sounds. By priming respondents with a specific word or issue it helps makes a corresponding concept more accessible.

Implicit reaction time tests (IRTs) measure intuitive, gut reactions and subconscious reactions to brands, packaging, new product concepts, adverts and other marketing communications without the biases of conscious rationalisation and social influence inherent in traditional research methods.

Research by Steinman and Karpinski (2009) found that implicit not explicit attitudes towards the brand GAP forecast engagement and purchase intentions. Further, Brunel et al. (2004) found that implicit techniques can identify attitudes towards brands that explicit methods are unable to show (e.g. variance by race for brand preference was shown by implicit research, but not explicitly).

Image of Implicit Association Test

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one of the most popular methods of implicit research. It measures how quickly participants sort words or images into categories every time they are primed by a stimulus. The IAT uncovers the strength of respondent’s feelings by measuring how each prime affects their mental processing speed and accuracy.

Implicit Research Agencies:

There are many research companies that offer implicit research methods to understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. At the forefront of applying implicit research techniques are new companies such as Sentient Decision Science, but established providers such Nielsen have also developed a suite of implicit research methods.

Eye-tracking companies like iMotions combine eye tracking with EEG, GSR and explicit research feedback to deliver insights to improve marketing content and user experience designs. Marketing consultancy firm Beyond Reason have developed their own model of implicit motivations and use a form of the IAT to identify the subconscious drivers behind brand loyalty.

Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

Will Implicit Techniques Replace Explicit Methods of Research?

Implicit research techniques can help us better understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. But whilst focus groups are certainly past their sell buy date, other explicit research methods (e.g. one-to-one depth interviews or surveys) can still offer useful insights when carefully designed.

It’s important to recognise that System 1 and 2 don’t work in isolation and they often respond at the same time to our marketing efforts. Further, observational techniques don’t suffer from the same flaws as self-reporting studies and should be employed when appropriate. Controlled experiments such as A/B testing also allow us to understand how users behave in reality to sometimes very subtle changes to the user experience.

So, whilst implicit research techniques are certainly a step forward in understanding underlying human motivations, they are often most powerful when combined with observation and explicit feedback. Having a sound and well thought out research design should always be your priority rather than being prescriptive about the techniques to be used.

Asking direct and often stupid questions is often the biggest problem with explicit research. Avoid asking people to predict the future as if they were any good at forecasting they would be multi-millionaires. A collaborative approach to research where employees work alongside customers and prospects to explore problems and needs is likely to be more insightful than the traditional structured questionnaire approach.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

 

Related posts:

VoC surveysWhy are Voice of Customer surveys fundamentally flawed? 

Implicit association testHow do you measure customer’s subconscious motivations? 

Focus groupsWhy should you stop using focus groups?

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What Can Brands Learn From The 2017 General Election Campaign?

8 Marketing Lessons From Theresa May’s Campaign

When Theresa May called the general election in April the polls were showing a lead for the Conservative Party of up to 20 points. It looked certain that May would get a much improved majority in parliament.

However, during the course of the campaign the Conservative’s lead almost evaporated as Theresa May’s popularity declined. This resulted in the Conservative’s losing 12 seats and their slim majority rather than gaining the large mandate May had expected.

Why did this happen and what does the result tell us about the nature of marketing campaigns and strategy?

1. Actions speak louder than words:

Before announcing the election Theresa May had repeatedly said she would not call a snap election. May indicated that she had the mandate for Brexit, the economy was strong and even the Labour party supported the triggering of Article 50 in the commons. However, by calling an early election May created uncertainty about her motivations and whether the future was so positive.

The psychologist Professor Alastair Smith from New York University has studied the outcomes of UK general elections since 1945. He suggests that calling an early election is like playing poker with the electorate.

Image of poker chips and cards on the table

Smith suggests that people understand that prime ministers have access to information about future prospects that the rest of us don’t have. Calling an election early may be  a sign that they are trying to conceal information (e.g. Brexit might be a disaster) and expect to see their popularity decline as a result.

He argues that more competent governments are in less of a hurry to call an election and so it is less confident prime ministers who call snap elections. We should not have been surprised then that Theresa May’s popularity and her party’s lead in the opinion polls declined. Indeed, Smith’s analysis indicated that the larger the governing party’s lead in the polls at the time of calling  an election, the greater the likelihood that their popularity would fall during the campaign.

Implications for marketing:

People understand that major sponsorship or advertising campaigns cost a lot of money and take a long time to recoup the investment. This is known as costly signalling. It demonstrates a brand’s intentions to be around for the long term.

Just as calling an election early shows a lack of confidence in future prospects, brands that fail to support their product launches or marketing campaigns with a reasonable level of advertising or sponsorship spend are indicating a lack of confidence in their ongoing success.

2. Messages need to be meaningful:

From day one May used a few core sound bites to communicate the essence of her proposition. ‘Strong and stable leadership’ and ‘coalition of chaos’ were May’s main messages that were almost immediately turned into memes by opposition supporters.

Psychologically people hate uncertainty and so voters might seek strong and stable leaders to manage instability and uncertainty. However, the strong and stable message was purely an emotional appeal to calm and orderliness, while the ‘coalition of chaos’ aimed to create fear of a Labour government.

“If I lose just six seats I will lose this election and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with Europe.” – Theresa May, 20th May 2017

The Conservative’s  slogans therefore lacked a rational element. They were further undermined by May’s behaviour including her U-turn on their social care policy and her refusal to take part in  live TV debates with other leaders.   In addition, May communicated her messages in an almost robotic way and so struggled to demonstrate emotional intelligence. This resulted in May being referred to as the “Maybot” in the media.

By contrast Jeremy Corbyn ran a more enthusiastic and engaging campaign around changing the status quo and looking after the majority rather than the wealthy minority.  His slogan ‘for the many, not the few’ was an anti-establishment message that may have benefited from recent  political movements.

Although his message was criticised by some commentators as potentially turning off the more affluent voters, it resonated with natural Labour supporters and clearly reflected Corbyn’s own political principles. No one could accuse Corbyn of not living according his slogan as it is something he has campaigned on since he first became a Labour MP.

Implications for marketing:

Emotional arguments resonate strongly with our fast intuitive mind and can be very persuasive. However, this does not mean that rational argument should be forgotten. It is important to align more emotional and implicit motivations with rational benefits to avoid conflicts between our different decision making systems.

When brands create slogans and messages to support the value proposition it is important to provide evidence to support such communications. However, it also necessary to create policies and behaviours within the organisation that demonstrates a commitment to these same values. Otherwise customers are likely to see such messages as soundbites that don’t reflect the real values of a brand.

3. Linking your  brand to an individual is a risky strategy:

Theresa May decided to make the Conservative campaign primarily about her leadership. This presidential style campaign meant that at rallies and in ads the headline was  ‘Theresa May’s Team’ and the Conservative Party was relegated to a small footnote at the bottom of the banner. This was a big departure from the norm in the UK and highlighted how she wanted to focus on her leadership compared to Jeremy Corbyn.

Image of Theresa May's Team at campaign rally

However, as the campaign developed and U-Turns and wobbles were observed this back-fired on the party. Positioning it as a presidential campaign highlighted that May was not as nimble or empathetic as she needed to be to play this as a strength.

Marketing Implications:

Brands that strongly associate themselves with an individual person, whether they are a celebrity or a business leader, run the risk of being damaged if that person’s popularity or reputation declines.  Celebrity endorsements can be a powerful marketing tool, but few brands successfully build themselves around a single individual. Richard Branson has achieved this with Virgin, but he clearly demonstrated that he had the necessary charisma and personality to develop such a brand.

4. Position your brand around what is important to your customers:

Theresa May positioned her campaign on the basis that it was about Brexit. However, what she failed to understand was that Brexit was largely a protest vote. It reflected many issues, including concerns about immigration, being left behind by globalisation, a London-centric economy and declining incomes.

In contrast Labour focused on policies that directly influence people’s lives such as the NHS, education, police numbers and rail nationalisation. These issues resonated much more strongly with people and took the focus away from Brexit. As a result Labour were able to project a much more positive and meaningful campaign.

Marketing Implications:

Listen to customers and conduct research to understand what motivates them. Don’t assume you know what is important to customers as often this is off the mark because of our own perceptions of the world. We get too close to our brands and products and can fall foul of the echo chambers we construct around ourselves.

5. Diversity is your friend:

When Theresa May created a manifesto only a small inner circle of was involved in the discussions. Small groups that lack diversity and insulate themselves from dissenters are very prone to groupthink.

When all think alike, then no one is thinking - Walter Lippman - The danger of groupthink

This is a psychological phenomena whereby groups make poor decisions because there is pressure to conform and ignore information that contradicts their decision. This creates an illusion of invulnerability and over-optimism which means they are willing to take unnecessary and extreme risks.

Marketing implications:

Ensure diversity in group decision making by recruiting people with a wide range of experience, cultural and gender backgrounds and cognitive ability. Re-frame disagreement as a necessary and helpful characteristic of teams and encourage all team members to contribute their thoughts, ideas and opinions.

Don’t be too prescriptive when briefing a problem and avoid quickly criticising other ideas and attacking other team members for ideas that contradict the consensus. Use market research and data analytics to provide scrutiny for ideas and generate fresh insights.

6. People are loss averse:

Prospect theory tells us that people prefer a small, but certain loss to a small risk of a much larger loss. Thus, people prefer an 80% chance of a certain small loss against a 5% chance of losing everything.

Because of this bias, the dementia tax as it become known was political suicide as it attacked the property owning class, many of whom are natural Conservative voters. It created a concern in voter’s minds that if they were unlucky enough to get a long term illness and needed care they might have to give up all but £100,000 of the value of their house after their death.

It was almost irrelevant that if they didn’t need long term care their assets would be safe. After he resigned, Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s special adviser admitted that it had been a mistake not to include a cap when they launched the policy. This would have limited the potential loss and may have made the policy more acceptable to voters.

Marketing Implication:

Focus more on avoiding losses rather than making gains. Guarantees and money back offers help to eliminate the concern that a choice may lead to an unacceptably large loss.  In spread betting for instance automatic stop losses eliminate the potential for unlimited losses that would probably prevent most people considering this kind of betting.

 

7. Provide a positive reason to choose your brand:

Theresa May failed to communicate a positive reason to choose her campaign. The campaign was characterised by warning voters about the consequences of not giving May an increased majority and the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn getting into power. There was little to promote in terms of positive benefits for voting Conservative.

Remain voters in particular who weren’t in a constituency with Liberal Democrat candidate capable of winning were faced with all options being bad (see prospect theory). When people are in a situation where all outcomes involve a loss people become risk seeking.  The status quo is usually perceived as the safer choice and so Corbyn would have been more appealing as he represented the riskier option.

Marketing Implication:

People buy benefits rather than features. Position your brand positively with a compelling proposition rather than trying to undermine your competitors. Identify important implicit (psychological) goals to differentiate your brand and get an emotional response. But don’t forget a strong rational benefit is also important.

8. Consistency is a valued personality characteristic:

Before the EU referendum Theresa May had been on the remain side, though some had criticised her for a lack of enthusiasm. After the referendum result and especially once she became prime minister May become an ardent advocate of Brexit. Further, May had repeatedly said that she had a mandate for Brexit and there was no need for a general election before the end of the fixed-term parliament. Of course she then called a general election.

This lack of consistency created anxiety among some voters that May could not be trusted to keep promises. Consistency and the appearance of consistency is a highly valued personality trait. People who are not consistent are often referred to as two-faced or untrustworthy.  This was compounded May’s U-turn on her social care policy when she introduced a cap after it was heavily criticised and then claimed “nothing has changed”.

Marketing implications:

Consistency can be used by marketers to persuade visitors to undertake a desired behaviour.

Lifehack.org is a lifestyle and well-being site that publishes ideas for self-improvement. When a new visitor lands on the site they are served a pop-up asking the user if they would like to “try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” If a user clicks on the  “I agree” CTA they are immediately served an email capture form with the heading “We think so, too!” Because these visitors have agreed to the first question they feel almost compelled to provide their email address to show consistency of behaviour.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:

Consistency is also important in branding and design. Using consistent branding and design principles can help communicate a professional and user-friendly customer experience. Being consistent with established web conventions also allows users to navigate according to experience and reduces  cognitive load.

Conclusion:

The result of the 2017 UK general election should be a lesson to us all that we should not take our customers for granted. Customers respond to how people in organisation behave according to social norms and expectations that are influenced by many complex factors.

We should avoid behaviours that are inconsistent with promises we make as this creates anxiety and damages trust in our brands. Trust is critical for any relationship or transaction and so we should protect it at all costs.

It’s easy to make assumptions about what we think people want and how they will react to decisions we make. To prevent costly mistakes we should invest in research and insights to improve our understanding of customers.

Take action to avoid groupthink when making decisions. Encourage news ideas and look for information that contradicts your decision rather than just that which confirms it.

People are more concerned about losses than gains. Framing an offer as a potential loss may make it more appealing than promoting it as a gain. Avoid situations where all choices are perceived as bad because this can turn customers into risk seekers.

In digital marketing we have the  advantage of being able to run experiments through A/B and multivariate testing.  By developing a culture of experimentation we can learn how customers respond to changes in the customer experience before investing resources and money into a change. This helps to ensure resources are directed to where the biggest impact can be made.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why Should Marketers Target the Subconscious Mind?

Should we trust our gut instinct?

If you believe everything written about the human mind on social media you would think that people are incapable of making a good decision. We are certainly prone to various cognitive biases that influence our judgement. Our herd instinct also leads us to copy the behaviour of others when faced with uncertainty or when we want to associate with a specific group of people. But surely these human traits have protected us from danger over thousands of years?

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that many of our subconscious and automatic responses relate to  our instincts for survival. We do not act randomly or irrationally as some writers suggest. Indeed, research by Alex Pouget, Associate Professor of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, discovered that people can make optimal decisions, but only if the choice is made by their sub-conscious mind.

Our subconscious mind has a rational purpose, to protect us from danger and respond quickly without depleting mental energy. People don’t consciously decide to ignore advertising banners or stop to read the copy. These are decisions we automatically make to ease the process of navigating a site. They allow us to focus on what our brain decides are the more important tasks at that moment in time. This is not irrational, it’s what has made our species so successful.

Unlike Kahneman, Pouget decided to avoid asking direct questions of people to determine how accurately they responded to problems. Instead, he studied the decisions that are made by our non-conscious brain and showed that in the vast majority of cases we make the best decision we can dependent upon the limited information available to us.

Many decisions though are not solely reliant on our unconscious brain because our conscious and subconscious brains co-exist together. Further,  our conscious mind (see System 2) is often triggered by visual and audio clutter,  contextual issues and problems that require mental attention. This means that people have short attention spans and are very impatient. This has a significant impact on the digital user experience.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid clutter and competing calls to action to enable our sub-conscious brain to focus on achieving active goals. There are too many calls to actions and a poor visual hierarchy.
  • Use visual cues to assist users find content or calls to action. Avoid flat design as this lacks the cues that users have become accustomed to seeing on a website.
  • Follow established web conventions as these allow users to navigate from expectations set by their experience of other websites.

This product page from Comms-express.com is probably one of the most cluttered pages I’ve come across. It has so much content that not all of it fits fully on the page.  This will ring alarms with a visitor’s brain and cause System 2 to take control.

Image of comms-express.com homepage as example of poorly designed page
Source: Comms-Express.com

 

What directs our attention to brands?

A mass of psychological and cognitive research since the 1970s has shown the goals that direct much of our behaviour can be activated without a person’s conscious intention or choice. Indeed, experiments have shown that much of our cognitive processing is triggered without the conscious deliberation and control once thought to be necessary. Further, these studies also demonstrate that behaviour driven by goal achievement can also operate without conscious thought.

This suggests our sub-conscious brain is hard-wired to automatically search for opportunities to satisfy psychological needs and make decisions that are in our best interest. It is at the very heart of our decision making. When our brain identifies a good opportunity it generates a positive emotion and the brain automatically seeks a decision to enable need fulfilment.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid over reliance on rational benefits as these may not get the attention of user’s subconscious mind.
  • Always include implicit or psychological needs in your online communications as these grab attention more than purely rational benefits. Individual psychological goals are outlined later on in this post.

This example of a product page from AO.com is much cleaner and includes strong social proof messages using customer ratings and reviews.

Image of AO.com product page with prominent ratings and reviews
Image Source:

How important are emotions?

So how important are emotions when people are making decisions? The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio observed patients with damage to the ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain which controls our ability to feel emotions.

The brain damage did not influence patients’ basic intelligence, memory or their capacity for logical thought. However, through a series of experiments Damasio found that the loss of their capability to feel destroyed a person’s ability to make decisions that were in their best interests.

Damasio suggests that our thoughts mainly comprise images which include ideas, words, smells and real or imagined visual perceptions. Through our experiences these images become “marked” with positive and negative feelings.

These feelings are associated (directly or indirectly) with bodily states. If a negative marker is associated with an image of an expected outcome it sounds an alarm and our brain will steer decisions to avoid that potential outcome. Damasio suggests that these emotional markers improve the accuracy and efficiency of our decision making process.

‘‘In short, somatic markers are … feelings generated from secondary emotions. These emotions and feelings have been connected, by learning, to predicted future outcomes of certain scenarios’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 174).

Implication for CRO:

  • Use copy and images that convey strong emotions to encourage engagement and create momentum in decision making. People are less likely to make a decision about a purchase if they don’t feel strongly about your proposition.
  • To encourage a positive feeling towards your brand consider using humorous images or copy to put users in a good frame of mind. Kahneman found that even getting people to smile improved their mood and how they responded to stimulus.
  • Use images of positive outcomes on your website to reduce the risk of your content generating negative associations.

How important is the sub-conscious mind?

The evidence suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are directed by  sub-conscious mental processes. So, if the non-conscious and emotional part of our brain is so important to decision making why do we rely so much on engaging the conscious mind questions about our products and services?

Does it matter if our customers say they like our website or our product if the non-conscious brain is driving behaviour? How do we target the sub-conscious mental processes that direct our attention and ultimately decide what we buy?

Do we buy what we like or like what we buy?

There is substantial evidence that the activation of the brain’s reward centre predicts purchases provided the pain induced by price is below a certain level. As an example, neuroscience research by Gregory Berns and Sara Moore from Emory University compared activation of the reward centre of teenagers who were listening to songs from relatively unknown artists with subjective likeability.

By analysing sales of these songs over a three year period they were able to show that activation of the reward centre was much more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability. What this confirms is that it is the unconscious brain that directs much of our attention and not our conscious liking of a site or brand. Unless our communication engages with the non-conscious brain it probably won’t be noticed by the conscious mind.

Implication for CRO:

A purely rational argument may be completely ignored by the sub-conscious brain as it may fail to activate the brain’s reward centre.  Emotionally engaging messages help us process information more quickly and improve the efficiency of our decision making.

How do we target subconscious motives?

 

Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

Marketing consultancy, Beyond Reason, have combined the latest psychological and neuroscience research to develop a comprehensive model of implicit (psychological) motivations. As the evolution of the brain occurs over thousands rather than hundreds of years these psychological goals relate to basic human needs and social interaction.

The Beyond Reason model has eight overriding implicit motivations which cover the areas of certainty, belonging, recognition, Individuality, power, self-development, sexuality and physiology. The model is summarised in this graphic and as you can see each motivation divides up into four individual categories.

Beyond Reason use a form of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the relative strength of different psychological goals. As people are not fully aware of their psychological motives we cannot use traditional forms of market research that rely on self-reporting. Focus groups in particular can be highly misleading as people try to rationalise what brands or communications mean to them when in reality much of our mental processing is done by our subconscious.

Implication for CRO:

Identify what your visitors’ most important implicit motivations are to align your value proposition and communications with customer’s underlying needs.

Image of Airbnb.com lifestyle experiences
Image Source:

Airbnb for example, have created lifestyle experiences to emphasise how their proposition appeals to the desire to be a non-conformist. This may partly explain why the average Airbnb customer’s stay is significantly longer than your average hotel stay.

Indeed, Airbnb’s own research suggests that many of their clients wouldn’t have gone on their trip if they hadn’t been able to use Airbnb. So Airbnb have actually grown the hospitality and travel market as well as disrupting some elements of the sector.

Image of AO.com homepage showing sponsorship of BGT
Image Source:

AO.com uses its sponsorship of the Britain’s Got Talent TV show to provide evidence of stability and certainty. People understand that sponsorship of a major TV show like BGT costs a lot of money and that it will take a long time for the company to get a return on their investment.  This is known as costly signalling and demonstrates to people that AO.com are investing for the long term and plan to be a major player in their sector in the future.

Conclusions:

Attention, preferences and loyalty are most strongly driven by our unconscious mind. Visual and audio clutter on a screen can disrupt this process and lead to mental depletion.

Emotions help people process information and make decisions faster and are involved in all our decisions. Communications that target subconscious goals are more likely to be effective than purely rational benefits as they tap into  human emotions.

Given the sub-conscious mind is responsible for most of our purchase decisions it is pointless asking people to rationalise brand preferences.  Because of this focus groups are a misleading and inappropriate method of research.

It is still necessary to have strong logical reasons to purchase your brand, but they need to be aligned to implicit goals. Because people are social animals the behaviour of others, including traditions and norms, can also heavily influence the perceived value and rewards from a brand.

Finally, optimisers should aim to simplify the user experience to retain attention and build satisfaction and loyalty. Too many choices and complex decisions disrupt our subconscious decision making (System 1 thinking)  and can result in mental depletion.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

 

Why Do Most Attempts At Behavioural Change Fail?

Most Behaviour Change Fails!

Have you ever tried to change a long-standing habit or create a new habit? Perhaps you tried to give up smoking, eat fewer sugary foods, start taking regular exercise, or just spend less time on social media. It’s often difficult isn’t it and the same is the case when we try to change the behaviour of website visitors. Indeed, studies suggest that most attempts to change behaviour fail.

Why do most attempts at change fail?

BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasion Lab conducts research on how to change behaviour using technology. The BJ Fogg Behaviour Model explains how three elements must converge simultaneously for a behaviour to occur. The model highlights that for people to complete a task they need the necessary motivation, the ability and a trigger to prompt the behaviour. When an action does not occur, at least one of these three elements must be missing.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg

How can we use the model?

The Fogg Behaviour Model has been created to help designers understand what stops people from completing a behaviour. For example, if users are not completing a target behaviour, such as a quotation request form on a price comparison site, the

Three core motivators – Psychological drivers:

Fogg highlights three key motivators; Sensation, Anticipation and Belonging. Each motivator has two sides; pleasure/pain, hope/fear and acceptance/rejection. Although this is a simplistic model of motivation, these core motivations can be applied to all uses and they get us to consider psychological drivers of behaviour.

Ability – Making things simpler:

If you want someone to do something they must have the ability to do so. It might seem obvious, but we sometimes wrongly assume everyone knows what we know and that they have the same skills as we do. We have two options here. We can either train people to improve their skills or we can reduce friction by making the target behaviour easier to complete.

Training or on-boarding is the more difficult route as people are generally impatient and lazy. As a result users will often avoid having to learn new skills. Designing an intuitive interface is normally a much better option as this fits much more closely with human nature.

Simplifying an action to make it easier to complete should be your preferred option in most cases. Ease of completion is a function of our scarcest resource. This is often either our time or money. Users are very impatient and so a behaviour that requires more than a few seconds may fail because the user is not prepared to sacrifice the time needed to complete it. This is why it is sometimes a good idea to inform users how long an action will take to manage expectations and encourage them to allow the necessary time for the task.

Money is another scarce resource and so if a behaviour needs £25 to complete and you don’t have £25 to spend, then it’s not easy is it. This is why a free trial can be an effective way of reducing friction to undertaking a behaviour.

Triggers to prompt behaviour:

Congruence bias can result in us testing just the things we decide are a problem rather than looking at other things

Triggers prompt or remind us to begin a task and without a trigger the target behaviour will not occur. There are lots of different names for triggers; prompts, call to action, request and cue to name but a few.

Triggers can be an external prompt, such as a mobile phone push notification or a pop-up message on a website. On other occasions our daily routine or habits may trigger a behaviour. For many people in large cities going to work triggers buying a coffee or checking Facebook may prompt us to upload our latest photos. Some of the most powerful triggers though are major life events such as starting work, marriage, moving home, birth of a child and children leaving home.

Trigger in action:

I sometimes play poker on Facebook with Zynga the online gaming company. I haven’t played for a week or two and so Zynga sent me an email offering me the chance to win some free chips. The trigger is a simple call to action of Open Now. The motivation involves scarcity as the offer expires within 24 hours of receiving the email.

Image of email from Zynga.com to trigger user to sign in
Image Source:

Although the target behaviour is to get me to sign in and claim my prize, Zynga’s larger objective is to get me playing a game of poker.  The use of loss aversion is an effective way to motivate me to click on the call to action and as Facebook remembers my login details the behaviour is very easy to complete.

How to apply the Fogg model to digital marketing:

The Fogg model is a powerful resource for evaluating how to encourage behavioural change in digital marketing as it has been specifically constructed for use with technology.

What is motivating visitors?

People buy benefits rather than features and so it is important understand your customer’s needs and what they want from your product or service. Marketers need to communicate a compelling proposition that includes psychological motivations as well as more rational benefits to motivate users. This needs to be sufficiently appealing to justify changing their behaviour and perhaps switching to a new supplier.

So before designing a page or website first consider what need your product or service is solving and how important is it to your prospects. Make sure you identify the most important needs so that you don’t make the mistake of promoting something that is not salient to your customers. Use the implicit association test to identify psychological motivations as people don’t have full access to our deeper, emotional drivers.

Evidence of social proof can further enhance the perceived value to prospects because of our natural herd instincts. However, perhaps most crucially is that your value proposition is communicated with engaging imagery and compelling copy to persuade visitors that it will deliver on your brand promise.

Rewards can be used to provide a further motivation to complete a task. However, make sure the reward is something people want and be careful to adjust the frequency of the reward to optimise its effectiveness. Read my post on the psychology of rewards for more details.

Evaluating ability:

If your target behaviour is not easy and simple for visitors to undertake it will create friction which can prevent even the most motivated user from completing a task.  Apart from being lazy, people have limited attention spans and are often interrupted when browsing. This is what it is important that the user experience is intuitive and there is a clear visual hierarchy.

To get an accurate assessment of how easy your site is to navigate usability testing is essential for any organisation that is serious about addressing ability issues. Observing visitors trying to navigate and complete tasks on your site is much more insightful than asking them direct questions. Your analytics can tell you where there may be a bottleneck, but usability testing tells you why there is a problem.

Browser replay tools, such as Hotjar or Sessioncam, can also help identify where problems may occur. Session replay recordings are like undirected usability tests as you don’t know for sure what visitors are trying to achieve. However, by encouraging people in your organisation to spend time watching session recordings it is surprising how frequently usability problems are identified.

Image of Widerfunnel.com lift model
Source: Widerfunnel.com

I find a heuristic analysis with the help of WiderFunnel’s Lift Model is also very useful at highlighting potential shortcomings with a screen or user journey. This begins with the value proposition and how compelling it is to your prospects. Use the model as a check list of what to look out for and you will soon come up with a long list of items to consider.

Frequent sources of friction:

There are some elements of web design that consistently cause friction and result in a poor user experience. Friction can reduce both our ability to complete a task, but the anxiety it creates can also harm motivation. So, if you have any of the following friction generators on your site I would recommend that you remove them if it all possible.

Using registration as a landing page:

Let me say this once. A registration page is not a landing page! Sending off-site visitors directly to your registration form is lazy marketing. Use a dedicated landing page that is designed to inform and persuade.

Registration pages should not be designed to inform visitors about your value proposition and should be focused on getting visitors through the sign-up process and not to persuade them that your offer is right for them. It’s also a poor user experience as it doesn’t conform to visitor’s expectations.

Sign up forms with a pop-up before the first page:

When a user clicks on a button to launch a form to input information for a quotation or open an account the expectation is very clear. The visitor anticipates being taken directly to the form. Given this strong expectation it is not advisable to interrupt the user journey with a pop-up or interstitial to offer users another choice.

Image of pop-up immediately before a form on https://www.theidol.com/
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Theidol.com launch a pop-up to promote their comparison service immediately after the user clicks on “Get a Quote” CTA. This is a poor user experience as it is confusing for the visitor. The risk with interrupting the user journey in this way is that it’s not meeting customer expectations and can be perceived as too aggressive. It would have been better to offer the price comparison service as the primary CTA on the home page and made the existing option of getting a single quote a secondary CTA.

Dont’s use CAPTCHA:

Forms are a common source of friction and so it is important to take care when designing them. However, CAPTCHA fields are notorious for annoying and frustrating users. They are often implemented by IT security teams to protect a site against bots, but there many other better ways of achieving the same aim without causing friction.

Image of CAPTCHA on wrexhamfc.co.uk
Image Source

 

Allow users to decide when they are ready:

When a user lands on your site many will not be ready to convert. If they have never been to your site before they need to establish your credibility and may want to browse to find out more about what you offer. However, many sites wrongly assume that visitors are ready to convert on their first visit and offer no secondary call to action.

Image of https://www.theidol.com/ homepage with secondary CTA
Image Source:

To build visitor motivation it is necessary to design user journeys that allow for establishing credentials (e.g. customer testimonials and awards), information gathering (e.g. white papers or blogs) and lead capture (e.g. newsletter sign up form).

Always include a secondary CTA as people like to have a choice and you need to allow for those users who are not yet ready to commit. The above homepage from theidol.com prominently displays a primary and secondary CTA to give users the choice.

Homepage Sliders/Carousels:

So many websites have auto-sliders or carousels on homepages that you would be forgiven for assuming that they must be an effective means of communicating multiple products or value propositions. Management love them because they can allow them to avoid making difficult decisions about what should be on their homepage.

Here is the carousel on Very.co.uk which changes every few seconds as the user is reading the text. This can also be annoying to visitors if they are not fast readers.

Image of Very.co.uk with homepage carousel
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However, the vast majority of A/B tests and usability studies have shown that few users interact with them and they can often harm conversion rates. Because carousels often look like adverts they are frequently ignored and have few clicks on calls to actions. In addition, even fewer visitors click on second, third and other panels that are included in a carousel. This means that prime real estate on your homepage is not performing effectively and so should be removed.

Welcome screen:

When a visitor successfully completes your registration process, don’t dump them into a blank page and expect them to work out where to go next. Make sure you provide a suitable welcome message and provide on-boarding information or cues. It’s an important stage in the user journey, and so make sure you take advantage of it with suitable content.

Image of on-boarding user journey for Deezer.com
Image Source:

Deezer, the music streaming app, has a simple and easy on-boarding process. When a user completes a short sign-up form they are first asked to select music genres they like. Users are then asked to indicate their preference for a series of artists. Once this is complete the user is presented with a unique play list called “Flow” which reflects their music tastes.

Conclusion:

BJ Fogg’s behavioural change model is a powerful framework for considering how we can nudge visitors towards their goals. Most attempts at behavioural change fail, not because people can’t change, but rather because at least one element is missing. People need a trigger, but also the ability and motivation to change. Use this framework to identify which elements are missing in your user journey and address these deficiencies to improve your chance of success.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

 

 

How To Use Behavioural Science To Boost Conversions

Why Is Behavioural Science The Key To Effective Marketing?

In the book, The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored, by Paul Rouke, a number of the contributors argue that for conversion rate optimisation (CRO) to be a significant driver of growth a customer centric approach needs to be embedded into the company’s culture from the C-suite downwards. There was also a consensus that it is essential to understand users and align the customer experience with their desires and motivations.

“We need to re-align optimisation to the user experience. Understanding our users, listening to their feedback and empathising with their needs is the only way to truly understand what needs to be optimised.” Dr David Darmanin, Founder & CEO of Hotjar  – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

However, whilst this sounds all well and good, CRO can only be a driver of genuine business growth if it first persuades more visitors to achieve their goals. The business’s goals should of course be aligned to customer goals. Think about it, improving awareness, engagement, intent or the overall customer experience doesn’t matter two hoots unless you persuade more users to convert in  a profitable and sustainable way.

“Conversion rates area a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfiying customers. For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs.” Bryan Eisenberg, Founder & CMO at IdealSpot – – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

To persuade users we need to understand the nature of human decision making. This means identifying how the mind operates and what mechanisms are involved in human decision making? But also what are the main forces that shape behaviour? To what extent do factors such as emotions, context, past experience and social influence drive behaviour?

Why behavioural Science?

Behavioural science examines both of these aspects of human decision-making. Behavioural economics for instance covers the analysis of our cognitive function, but also social, contextual and emotional factors that shape human behaviour. Neuroscience is making great advances in understanding how our brains respond to different types of stimulus. Most of these factors are largely ignored by the field of economics and yet much of marketing theory has been influenced by economic thinking.

For example are people really rational, independent thinkers? In the book Herd, Mark Earls points out that humans are “super social apes” and we constantly monitor and copy the behaviour of others. We align with groups we wish to associate with (herd theory) or copy others to learn new ideas and behaviour (social learning). This means we are automatically drawn towards brands that people in our social networks buy. In this respect we are almost the exact opposite of the agents that economists assume we are.

Behavioural science therefore allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the decision making process and the factors that influence user behaviour. So what are the practical implications and how can we use them to improve the persuasiveness of our digital marketing activity? Below are six key insights and implications for CRO.

1. What About The Subconscious Brain?

Marketing is often ineffective because it fails to target both the conscious and non-conscious parts of the brain to get an emotional response. A purely rational argument may not communicate to the part of the mind that makes most of our decisions.

At the same time behavioural science cannot save a poorly designed product or weak value proposition. Indeed, sometimes a good rational message can also result in strong emotional response.  For example, Ronseal’s quick drying woodstain’s strapline; “Does exactly what is say on the tin.” This is a rational message that gives the buyer reassurance that they won’t regret their decision. Avoiding regret is a powerful motivator as people hate to feel such an emotion.

The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown that the mind works at two levels. System 1 is our fast, intuitive, emotional and largely automatic brain which is continuously running in the background. It also largely steers our other level of thinking, System 2. This is a slow, analytical, and deliberative brain.

We use System 2 for self-control and cognitive effort, such as resolving complex problems and mental maths. However, because System 2 quickly depletes a shared pool of cognitive energy we use it sparingly and so we rely on System 1 for most simple decisions.

Image of difference between System 1 and System 2

This concept of the mind has been further supported by Professor Gerald Zaltman whose research suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. Roger Dooley also makes the point in the book The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.

“Today, there are many poorly optimised websites that even elementary CRO approaches can help. Once the basics are fixed, though, more sophisticated approaches will be needed to keep improving conversion rates. A key part of these better tactics will be to focus on the customer’s non-conscious decision-making using brain and behavioural science.” Roger Dooley, Founder at Dooley Direct LLC – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

Implications for CRO:

  • The explosion of literature about the non-conscious part of the brain has led some marketers to focus purely on emotional messages. This is misguided as a strong explicit goal forms the foundation of relevance and motivation to purchase. Ensure you establish a strong connection between rational and implicit (psychological) goals to avoid conflict between the System 1 and 2.
  • Targeting the non-conscious brain requires thinking about our underlying motivations that we often don’t express but are important drivers of behaviour. This means considering how people want to feel about their actions and the brands they buy. Even if people are not consciously aware of a message that targets an implicit goal research (Ruud Custers & Henk Aarts, 2010) indicates that it can still become more accessible in a person’s memory and so the brand has more chance of being top of mind.

“Implicitly activated goals not only make products or brands more accessible, they also result in a more positive attitude.” – Phil Barden, Decoded.

 

  • Lean Cuisine for example used underlying motivations to create an ad “#WeighThis” which went viral. The ad creators realised that eating healthy, low fat food is often not about your weight. People make an effort to take care of what they eat for a purpose.
  • Psychologically they want to feel good about themselves. As a consequence the ad focused on getting people to talk about what really matters in their lives. Rather than using scales to measure their weight they were asked to weigh what they are most proud about their life. 
Image of Lean Cuisine ad "#Weigh this"
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  • Asking people direct questions about why they purchased a product or made a decision is fundamentally flawed. Customers don’t have full access to their underlying motivations and post-rationalise when asked to explain why they made a certain decision.
  • Focus groups are the biggest failure here as you also have group dynamics involved which makes feedback almost impossible to interpret. They are often the default method of research and appear to be popular because people enjoy watching a group of strangers rationalise about their product or creative.
  • But in reality we don’t sit in a bubble with a bunch of strangers trying to say clever things about something we don’t really care that much about. Neither is it normal to talk about digital content when we know the person who thought up the idea may be watching us behind a one-way mirror. This is as about as far from reality as anything we could think up in our wildest dreams.
  • Observing users (e.g. usability research), listening (e.g. social media monitoring) and using implicit research methods (e.g. Implicit Association Test) are more reliable methods of research as they don’t rely on self-reporting. Direct questioning at the time of a user visit can be useful to obtain feedback on the user experience, but be aware of the limitations of such research.
  • For understanding how people react to new content or new products the most reliable method is a controlled experiment. The scientific method used for A/B testing for instance allows us to measure real changes in behaviour rather than rely on biased and flawed research techniques.

2. Psychological Rewards Drive Attention:

Brands are objects in our minds and relatively few brands connect at an emotional level. We respond emotionally to brands because they help us meet psychological goals not because we are particularly loyal to them. Brands, however, can use these psychological territories to differentiate themselves from competitors and to improve their appeal to customers.

Neuroscience research (Berns & Moore, 2012) indicates that products and services activate the reward system of our brain. Indeed, this is more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability and the intensity of the brain’s response is related to the value we expect the product to deliver.

A neuroscientific study (Carolyn Yoon, 2006) indicated that brands are simply objects to the brain and brands are not perceived to be people with personality traits. People buy products to achieve explicit (rational) goals which relate to the product category.

Brands on the other hand help us meet implicit or psychological goals. People respond emotionally to a brand when it helps them achieve a goal and not necessarily because we feel deeply attached to it. However, the more important a goal is the stronger we relate to brands that are relevant to that goal.

Marketing consultancy Beyond Reason combined findings from both neuroscience and psychological research to create a comprehensive model of implicit motivations. Research shows that implicit goals focus our attention so that even subconsciously we notice brands that may help us achieve an active psychological goal. Brands that we think are most likely to help us achieve a goal get the largest share of our attention. This may explain the attraction of guarantees and compelling value propositions that promise a desired outcome.

Image of Beyond Reason's implicit motivation model
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

 

Our brains respond to the difference between reward (i.e. achieving goals) and the pain (i.e. the price) we feel when considering a purchase. When the difference is sufficiently large we will be open to purchasing a product. The net value can be changed by increasing the expected reward (i.e. improve the benefits or performance of the product) and or reducing the pain (i.e. lower the price). Another way to improve the perceived value of a product is to use social proof to demonstrate how popular the brand is.

Implications for CRO:

  • Use the Beyond Reason implicit goal map to review your value proposition and messages on key pages. Beyond Reason’s implicit research methodology identifies and provides a weight to each implicit purchase motivation so that you can align your value proposition and communications to your customers’ psychological goals. You can then use A/B testing to evaluate how communicating these psychological goals influence conversions on your site or app.
  • People like what they buy, not buy what they like. Providing reasons, both rational and emotional can help to persuade visitors that what you offer is what they are looking for. However, the serial position effect suggests that you should position your most important points at the beginning and end of a list. Don’t list your benefits in descending order of importance because people have a tendency to remember the first and last items in a list.
  • Focus on habit formation or disrupting existing habits. Research by the late Andrew Ehrenberg suggested that most brand loyalty is driven by habits and availability, not by a strong emotional attachment to the product. Marketing strategy should be designed around people’s habits. It is easier to piggy back onto an existing habit rather than create a new one and so look to see how your product or service relates to everyday behaviour.

 3. The sales funnel is a myth!

Decision making is not a linear process as suggested by many models of consumer behaviour. It’s complicated and is not conducted in isolation from what else is happening around us. This means that people are easily distracted because they have multiple goals battling for attention at any one time.

  • The traditional sales funnel suggests we act rationally and go through a mythical sequence of steps before purchasing. In reality our brains are constantly bombarded by stimuli and as a coping mechanism our brain creates a cognitive illusion that makes us feel in control and rational. However, this process filters out information that our brains deem to be unimportant and distorts other inputs to protect and enhance our self-esteem.
  • In these circumstances a more appropriate analogy would be a leaking bucket that is standing on a ship’s deck. The water in the bucket is anything but tranquil as it is constantly being churned up by emotions, incomplete and inaccurate memories, social interactions and many other factors that can instantly cause us to change course. In figure 1 below I have summarised all the key elements that behavioural economics identifies as influencing behaviour.

Figure 1

Image of behavioural economics decision bucket
Source: Conversion-Uplift.co.uk 2017

 

Implications for CRO:

  • Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, backfire effect and bias blind spot shape our view of the world and make it very difficult for brands to change strongly held beliefs. What this suggests is that brands may be wasting their time and money by targeting existing customers of large competitors as they are unlikely to alter their opinions and habits unless something seriously goes wrong. Don’t use rational arguments to change people’s beliefs because often this will just result in those ideas becoming even more entrenched.
Image of cognitive bias codex graphic
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  • Brands can grow faster if they focus on increasing overall penetration by targeting visitors who are not strongly affiliated to any particular brand and use CRM activity to engage existing customers. This is supported by research published in the Journal of Advertising Research  which points out that your next customer is likely to be your most profitable visitor because average basket values increases as a brand franchise grows in size.
  • The insight here is to be less concerned about what your competitors are doing and put more effort into communicating a compelling proposition to new users and visitors to your site.

“Brands need to target inclusively and stand for a vivid, clear but broadly appealing benefit. A narrow, exclusive focus on the ‘most profitable’ households is a recipe for stagnation and decline, not for brand health.” Journal of Advertising Research, 2002.

  • Repeat key messages at key stages of the user journey to improve the likelihood that visitors will notice them. Repetition also plays to the availability heuristic which means we are more likely to believe something that is familiar to us.

“When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it must be true.” Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Revised Edition

4. Brands are framed by people not brands:

Because people are extremely social beings we have highly developed and complex social networks. We are constantly thinking about or observing the behaviour of others. Much of our behaviour is made and shaped by interactions with other people.

Whether it is the brands our parents purchased when we were young, what our colleagues talk about at work or the latest game that our Facebook friends are playing. These interactions are key to many of the choices we make and often we are not even consciously aware of how others influence us.

Indeed, to influence mass behaviour Mark Earls argues that we need to stop thinking about customers in the “I” perspective and begin considering them part of social networks and tribes of “Us”. He uses the analogy of trying to predict how a fire spreads through a forest. We wouldn’t concern ourselves with the characteristics of an individual tree and focus on a tree in isolation. Instead we consider how trees are connected to each other and how the landscape might influence the spread of the fire.

Implications for CRO:

  • People often conform to trends or fads, and may even ignore their own beliefs because they don’t want to miss out (i.e. loss aversion) on what everyone else is doing (see bandwagon effect). Use social proof (e.g. Facebook followers, customer numbers and testimonials) to communicate how popular your brand is to benefit from this phenomena.
  • Ratings and reviews are especially important when people are faced with a large number of similar options as they often don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate each item. Here social proof acts a short-cut for determining which providers they can trust.  com effectively uses the Trustpilot rating platform with a prominent site rating in the header and clear customer rating and review information just above the price on the product page.
Image of AO.com product page with prominent ratings and reviews
Image Source:

 

  • When you faced with a number of similar options, such as pricing plans, people find it difficult to decide between them. One way behavioural economics suggests you can make it easier for users is to indicate which plan is your customers’ most popular choice. Many visitors will select the most popular plan because it is seen as a ‘safe option’ when faced with uncertainty.

Spotify extensively utilise the bandwagon effect in their music app by displaying how many people are following a song, album, artist or playlist. This encourages users to explore new music and build their own playlists. Such behaviour improves user engagement and increases the potential value of customers.

Example of social proof from Spotify.com
Source: Spotify.com

 

  • People also consciously copy the behaviour of others when they want to be associated with like-minded people and participate in similar experiences. Use customer research to understand what beliefs and attitudes are most important to your visitors and align your behaviour and business ethics accordingly.

For example, Innocent drinks sell a range of premium smoothies to a health conscious audience. However, to communicate its high ethical standards it has a brand promise to be socially responsible in how it sources its ingredients and it guarantees to give 10% of its profits to charities which fund projects that alleviate hunger around the world. This socially responsible stance fits well with many of its customers and probably helps it to maintain a premium price.

Innocent smoothies promise
Image Source:

 

  • Be careful about social norms and traditions when entering a new market or launching a new product. When Apple launched the original iPhone in Japan in 2008 it struggled to sell because it didn’t conform to market norms. By 2008 Japanese consumers were already accustomed taking videos and watching TV shows on their smartphones. The iPhone did not even have a video camera or the ability to include chips for debit card transactions or train passes. In Japan many people use trains to get about and credit cards are rarely accepted.
  • Pepsi broke a social norm with the Kendall Jenner ad as they tried to use political protest for commercial gain. By attempting to co-opt a movement of political resistance and mimic anti-Trump and Black Lives Matter protests, Pepsi over stepped what was perceived to be acceptable by many people.
Image of Kendall Jenner in Pepsi ad giving a can to policeman
Image Source:

 

5. People do not seek a perfect solution:

Most of the time people are satisfiers rather than wanting to maximise economic utility. We don’t have the time or resources to look for “ideal” solutions. We use our gut instinct and heuristics to identify who we can trust and aim to avoid disasters rather than seeking perfection. We are probably happy most of the time if our decision results in something that is in the third quartile.

Implications for CRO:

Avoid using words to describe your offer as “ideal” or “perfect” as this is not aligned with real user behaviour. People want to know who can be trusted rather than if your product will change their lives.

Everything is relative. People automatically want to compare offers because they don’t necessarily know what above average looks like. Including comparative information on your site which includes some benefits where you are inferior to your competitors can help build confidence in your brand. People understand it is rare to find something that is better in every aspect and value honesty in the people they deal with.  An independent source for comparative information can carry further weight.

Offer money back guarantees or free returns to demonstrates confidence in your product. This also reduces the perceived risk of the customer making a mistake and feeling regret.

6. Ease the pain of payment:

Neuroscience research has indicated that an excessive price activates a part of the brain called the insula. This is normally a part of the brain associated with experiencing pain which suggest the people can suffer from a form of mental pain when considering the cost of an item.

Implications for CRO:

Free trial offers and buy one, get one free offers are good strategies for reducing pain felt due to the price of an item. This also plays to our human tendency to be loss averse. People fear loss greater than a gain and are also attracted to free or discounted offers because they hate the feeling of regret when they miss out on something appealing.

Image of chart showing hyperbolic discounting curve
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Delaying payment can also significantly improve a user’s likelihood to convert because a payment in the future is perceived to be worth less than a cost immediately incurred. (see hyperbolic discounting). Ecommerce stores routinely benefit from this phenomena by using buy now, pay later promotions and by allowing customers to pay in monthly instalments.  Littlewoods.com is very effective at using  the buy now pay later proposition to reduce the pain of a purchase and this allows the e-commerce retailer to charge a significant premium for products on its site.

Image of spread the cost banner on Littlewoods.com
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Brands can also reduce the pain from a payment by using the concept of mental accounting to associate the purchase with an existing household budget. People have a tendency to allocate money into separate subjective pots, such as house, weekly shop, holiday, savings, windfall gains and housekeeping money. They tend to be more willing to dip into some accounts, such as housekeeping and windfalls, than others, such as savings or house (i.e. rent or mortgage).

Image demonstrating mental accounting
Image Source:

To benefit from mental accounting brands can seek to position their product or service as naturally coming from an appropriate and easily accessible mental account (e.g. air freshener from weekly shopping). In addition brands could allow customers hold a surplus balance or to allocate items to different accounts (e.g. banking apps that allow budget setting). This can help people manage expenditure according to their mental accounts.

Image of Amazon sign

Amazon uses mental accounting with Amazon Prime Reload, a rewards program which encourages people to sign up to Prime and hold a surplus balance on their account. Prime members get 2% back on purchases when they first pre-fund their Amazon Balance using a debit card.

This may encourage people to load large amounts into their Amazon Balance to avoid ever having to pay directly for an item through their debit or credit card.  By creating an ‘Amazon account’  this may encourage more frequent and impulse purchasing if the customer maintains a surplus balance. It makes it much easier for people to justify a purchase when the money has already been allocated to an existing account.

MYJAR.com  uses its brand name to associate itself with the mental accounting concept because in the UK it is still common practice to keep spare change or money for a specific purpose  in jars. Traditionally it was common to use jam jars to store cash for different needs (e.g. beer money and milk money).

Image of email from Myjar.com which uses mental accounting concept with the use of the term jar
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Conclusion:

Behavioural economics in particular provides us with a framework and language to create strategies for behavioural change. As shown above, behavioural science creates many opportunities for us to be more persuasive online. Roger Dooley is correct in suggesting that we need to be better at targeting the non-conscious brain because this makes most decisions. However, neither should we forget to link the emotional with rational reasons why we buy as without System 2 thinking we may lack substance.

Beyond Reason’s implicit motivations model provides valuable insight into how we should discuss brand positioning. Many brands have similar features and benefits, but we can use implicit motivators to have informed discussions about how to best differentiate our brand using deep psychological and emotional goals.

The importance of social interaction cannot be overstated. Brands are nothing without human interaction, whether between customers or with staff via digital channels or offline conversations. People use the popularity of your site as a short-cut to deciding whether they can trust you. Social influence should, therefore, be one of your strongest strategies for influencing visitors to engage and convert.

As well as seeking to increase the value of your brand (e.g. through product enhancements) behavioural economics suggests we also look at the pain of price. It is important not to look at these factors in isolation because it is the net difference between the perceived value and the cost of an item that determines likelihood to purchase.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope it has given you some ideas on how to improve your site and generate hypothesis for A/B and multivariate testing. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

 

Don’t Let This Bias Destroy Your Optimisation Strategy!

Survivorship Bias & Website Optimisation:

During World War II, researchers at the US Center for Naval Analyses were given a difficult problem to solve.  They were asked to recommend where to reinforce US bombers to reduce aircraft losses over enemy territory.  They decided to conduct a review of the damage inflicted on US bombers that returned from combat missions.

What we see is all there is:

Naturally they recommended that armour should be added to those areas that showed the most damage on the planes they assessed. But the statistician Abraham Wald pointed out that the study was suffering from survivorship bias. They had only considered aircraft that survived their missions as the bombers not included in the analysis had been shot down.

Wald argued that the holes in the returning aircraft represented areas where a plane could take damage and still return home safely. Using his insight he recommend they reinforce the essential working parts of the plane, such as the engines,  where returning planes largely showed no damage. Theses components were most likely to be the areas that if damaged  would prevent a plane from returning safely home.

Example of survivorship bias from US airplane in 2nd World War
Image Source:

What is survivorship bias?

Survivorship bias is one of the most common logical errors that optimisers make as it plays on our desire to deconstruct success and cherry pick data that confirms our existing beliefs (see confirmation bias). People are prone to comparing survivors with the overall average despite evidence that survivors have unusual properties, namely that they have been successful.

By only examining successful outcomes we tend to become over-optimistic and may set unrealistic expectations about what optimisation can deliver in the short-term. We have a tendency to ignore the many more tests that have failed to deliver an uplift and only focus on our successes. As a result we tend to overestimate the importance of skill and underestimate the role of luck in the process.

To manage expectations appropriately consider:

  • Huge uplifts from tests don’t happen very often.
  • Testing the low-hanging fruit will not give you a competitive advantage.
  • A majority of tests don’t achieve an uplift. However, negative or neutral tests still provide valuable insights, so don’t ignore them.
  • Conversion rate optimisation is a long-term strategy and not a tactical sprint.
  • Tests that work for one site may not work on a different site. Each site is unique and has its own customer base.

Survivorship bias can also lead to misleading conclusions and false beliefs that successful members of a group (e.g. VIP customers) have common characteristics rather than are the result of a process they have completed. For example, very few, if any, customers are born as VIPs.  Optimisers need to be careful to avoid the following traps resulting from survivorship bias:

Understand visitor types:

Visitors are influenced by the process they complete online. Be careful about including  returning visitors or existing customers  in your A/B tests.

Returning visitors are problematic not only because they may have already been exposed to the default design, but also because most visitors don’t return to a site. Returning visitors are survivors because they didn’t abandon your site and decide never to come back due to negative aspects of the user experience. They weren’t put-off by your value proposition, the auto-slider, long form registration or other aspects of your site that may have caused some new visitors to bounce. They are also likely to have higher levels of intent than most new visitors.

Existing users are potentially even more biased as they have managed to jump through all the hoops and navigate around all the barriers that many other users may have fallen at. They have also worked out how to use your site and are getting sufficient value to want to continue with using it. This means they are likely to respond very differently to changes in content than might a new visitor.

This does not mean you cannot conduct A/B tests with returning visitors or existing customers. You can if the objective is appropriate and you don’t assume the test result will apply to other visitor types. Just be careful about what you read into the results.

Examine user personas:

Similarly each user persona may have different intent levels due to the source of traffic or other factors influencing behaviour. For instance be careful with including Direct traffic in you’re A/B tests as you have to question why they would type your URL directly into a search engine if they are really a new visitor. Perhaps some of these visitors have cleared their cookies and so are in fact returning visitors?

Why do uplifts sometimes decay?

Survivorship bias can also result in management questioning the sustainability of uplifts. When you first launch a tactical change to your website, such as a promotional pop-up, it is something new that none of your visitors will have seen before.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:

This may result in a significant uplift in your overall conversion rate for both new and returning visitors. However, as a proportion of visitors seeing the prompt for the first time will have signed up, these users will no longer be part of your target audience as they have created an account.

As a consequence this will automatically reduce your overall conversion rate over time as those who are going to be influenced by the pop-up sign-up and those who are not don’t. Further, as more visitors come back to the site after experiencing the new pop-up the proportion of non-customers who have not seen this particular pop-up before will decline to just new visitors. As returning visitors become acclimatised to the promotional pop-up its effectiveness is likely to decline among this type of visitor.

This can make it appear the uplift was not sustainable. However, if you analyse new visitor conversion you are likely to see that the uplift has largely been maintained. But even here there may be a notable decay in the uplift over time as a proportion of returning visitors regularly clear their cookies and so are tracked as new visitors by your web analytics.

This needs to be explained to stakeholders to manage their expectations for the overall conversion rate. If this is not understood this is sometimes used to challenge the sustainability of uplifts from conversion rate optimisation.  To respond to this phenomena it is worth revisiting changes on a regular basis to review conversion rates and to test new variants if necessary.

Frequency of email and push notification campaigns:

A common question that digital marketers have is what is the optimum frequency of email and push notification campaigns. Often people assess this by analysing existing user engagement. However, relying on existing users is a heavily biased approach because these customers have self-selected themselves on the basis that they are happy with your current frequency of engagement. Those who are not happy with the level of contact will have already unsubscribed.

Instead you should test email and push notification contact frequency using an unbiased list of new users who have recently signed up and have not received any campaigns so far. Provided the sample size is large enough and they have never been included in CRM campaigns you should test contact frequency using this clean list of new users.

Pre-screening traffic:

Be cautious about rolling out changes that generate uplifts for pre-qualified visitors. Just because a landing page produces an uplift from a highly engaged email list you cannot assume it will help convert unqualified traffic.

Different types of CTAs:

Why is it that web designers are on the only kind of designers who think that all calls to action (CTA) should look identical? The reason aircraft cockpits have different types, sizes and colours of switches and buttons is to clearly differentiate between their different uses. A newsletter sign-up CTA is very different from an add to basket button or a buy CTA. The nature of the user’s decision needs to be reflected in the design of the CTA and so it is dangerous to prescribe in your brand guidelines that all CTAs look the same.
Types of CTAs

No, you should optimise a page for the specific CTA that is required for the stage in the user journey. As a user proceeds through the conversion journey their intent and needs change. This should be reflected in the design of the CTA. Just because a CTA works on a landing page does not mean it will be optimal for a product page or check-out.

Law of small numbers:

Be careful not to rely on small sample sizes when analysing web analytics or test results. The law of small numbers means that we have a tendency to underestimate the impact of small sample sizes on outcomes. Essentially we often only get certain results because of the unreliability of small numbers. So few survivors are left we get extreme results.

Take care with multivariate tests:

Avoid having too many recipes (i.e. variables being changed) in your MVTs as otherwise you will end up with small sample sizes. It may be better to concentrate on testing one area at a time with a well-designed A/B test. Often a slower optimisation process staying within your traffic capabilities is more reliable than trying to overdo multivariate testing.

Don’t’ take users literally:

Qualitative research and usability testing can provide useful insights for understanding user needs and for developing hypothesis. However, most users don’t reply to surveys on or off-line. Further, neuroscience research indicates that a majority of our decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. This means that we are not fully aware of why we make many of the small decisions when navigating a website. Always make decisions based upon user’s actions and not what they say.

Conclusion:

People are prone to survivorship bias because they lack a good understanding of statistics and so training in this area of optimisation will make your team stronger and less likely to fall into the trap of neglecting users who don’t survive a process.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How Do You Measure Customers’ Sub-Conscious Motivations?

Most Decisions Are Made By Our Sub-Conscious Brain:

Neuroscience suggests that up to 95% of our decisions are made by our emotional sub-conscious brain and yet most research targets the conscious mind. To understand implicit (psychological) motivations it is therefore necessary to access the unconscious brain as this is known to direct attention towards brands and is more predictive of purchasing behaviour than subjective likeability.

What are implicit research techniques?

Implicit research seeks to access the automatic and sub-conscious mind (see System 1) using techniques that do not rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As a result relatively few research techniques qualify as implicit because many methods of research rely on conscious (intentional) thought.

Image of table showing different types of research and whether they are implicit techniques

One implicit research technique that is becoming increasingly popular with marketers because it is scalable and can measure sub-conscious feelings towards a brand or product is the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

 What is the Implicit Association Test?

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) allows you to measure the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental concepts (e.g. Muslims and Christians) and evaluations (e.g. positive or negative) or stereotypes (e.g. extremists, don’t integrate). It does this by measuring how quickly people can sort words or images into categories each time they are exposed or “primed” to a stimulus (e.g. a brand logo or product).

Why does it work?

It works on the basis that when you are primed with an image, sound or a word, the associations your brain has with that concept are much more accessible to you as it improves your cognitive processing. This means it can uncover the strength of your feelings as it monitors how each prime affects your mental processing speed and accuracy.

IAT achieves this by asking respondents to quickly sort words into one of two categories shown on the left and right hand-side of the computer screen. Participants use the “e” key to indicate if the word is most strongly associated with the category on the left and the “i” key if it belongs more to the category on the right.

How is the data used?

By understanding users’ implicit motivations marketers can design content and messages that are much more emotionally engaging and psychologically persuasive. By combining the findings with data from traditional methods of research we can create a decision-making model that includes both emotion and reason. Such models can generate very accurate predictions of user behaviour which can be used to inform campaign planning and value proposition development.

This allows us to measure the impact of the non-conscious on new product concept adoption, advertising response, brand image, packaging evaluations and more. IAT’s also allow you to understand the needs, interests and expectations of different customer segments, enabling you to better target marketing communications for different target audiences to generate a truly emotional response.

Agencies offering IAT’s:

Due to the increasing awareness of the limitations of traditional research more companies are now offering IAT’s to probe the non-conscious mind of the consumer. This includes companies such as Sentient Decision Science, who have a very informative blog,  The Implicit Testing Company, marketing consultancy Beyond Reason and market research company  COG Research.

Conclusion:

The IAT offers a scalable and affordable way for organisations to measure non-conscious motivations and expectations. Implicit methods of research provide a more reliable and accurate measure of the real influences on a user’s behaviour than more traditional explicit research techniques, such as surveys and focus groups.

Indeed, studies have indicated that IAT results show good correlation with preference and purchase intent. So, if you want to understand true user motivations it is time to ditch traditional questionnaires and focus groups as they are probably doing more harm than good.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.